The hunt is on! With Black Thursday and Friday behind us, the holiday shopping season is in full swing. Are you looking for the perfect gift for each person on your list? What’s the perfect gift to give—or to receive?
Could it be cash?
We like to think of gift giving as an act of altruism, a freely given expression of affection and love toward another. But gift giving can be complicated. In every society, gift giving follows certain informal rules; we intuitively know these rules even if we can’t always articulate them.
These rules become starkly apparent when we give the wrong gift—or get the wrong gift.
Let’s start today with money, the ultimate arbiter of value. For some, money is the perfect gift. It takes all the guesswork out of the equation. No need to intuit what the other person really wants. It’s very simple: The receiver uses the money to purchase exactly what he or she wants. What can be more satisfying than that?
But giving or getting money isn’t always so satisfying. Gifts of money make economic sense in a cold rational way; but gifts are not rational in the economic sense. Gifts are more about our values and emotions. And gifts of money, like all gifts, follow a certain social code.
Did your grandparents ever give you a holiday gift of money? This use of money as a gift is socially acceptable. It’s OK for a grandparent to give gifts of money to a grandchild. But the other way around—a grandchild giving a gift of money to a grandparent—is a violation of the social code. This is true even if the grandparent could really use the money, and the grandchild is affluent.
How about a holiday gift of money—to your spouse or significant other? The social code here varies from couple to couple. Generally, a gift of money does not convey the love and thoughtfulness that a gift should convey, but I know couples where money is the perfect gift.
How about giving a gift of money—to your boss? This is clearly a violation of the social code. Giving a purchased gift, however, often is not.
Is “money” the perfect gift?
Would you be happy giving or getting a gift of money for the holidays?
What is your definition of “The Perfect Gift”?
Your viewpoint is important!
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